Impact of gender on the formation and outcome of formal mentoring relationships in the life sciences

Leah P. Schwartz, Jean F. Liénard, Stephen V. David

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Despite increasing representation in graduate training programs, a disproportionate number of women leave academic research without obtaining an independent position that enables them to train the next generation of academic researchers. To understand factors underlying this trend, we analyzed formal PhD and postdoctoral mentoring relationships in the life sciences during the years 2000 to 2020. Student and mentor gender are both associated with differences in rates of student's continuation to positions that allow formal academic mentorship. Although trainees of women mentors are less likely to take on positions as academic mentors than trainees of men mentors, this effect is reduced substantially after controlling for several measurements of mentor status. Thus, the effect of mentor gender can be explained at least partially by gender disparities in social and financial resources available to mentors. Because trainees and mentors tend to be of the same gender, this association between mentor gender and academic continuation disproportionately impacts women trainees. On average, gender homophily in graduate training is unrelated to mentor status. A notable exception to this trend is the special case of scientists having been granted an outstanding distinction, evidenced by membership in the National Academy of Sciences, being a grantee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, or having been awarded the Nobel Prize. This group of mentors trains men graduate students at higher rates than their most successful colleagues. These results suggest that, in addition to other factors that limit career choices for women trainees, gender inequities in mentors' access to resources and prestige contribute to women's attrition from independent research positions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere3001771
JournalPLoS Biology
Volume20
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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